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Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

Bunker, Bunker, and More Bunker and Big Bass Too!
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

have been living on a lot of coffee in the last week as our long awaited bunker and big bass run is now finally in full swing. Bunkers have inundated southern Monmouth and northern Ocean county waters and while this is a late run no one is complaining any longer. For all of June bunker were absent from my guiding area outside the Manasquan Inlet and we had to make the long 17 mile run up to the Shrewsbury Rocks to catch fish but now that is over. Now I am logging in less than five miles for a round trip on my mileage gauge each day and that is nice.

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

Yesterday July 3rd the entire stretch of water from Manasquan to the middle of Spring Lake was covered with bunker. The bunker stretched this entire north to south length from 20 feet of water out to 35 feet of water. It was massive to say the least. There were also very big pods above and below this area all the way down to Island Beach State Park.

Since this run started my daily routine has been up at 3:45am, out the door by 4:00 AM, down to the boat, prep, ready, and rig and leave the dock by 4:30 AM. By 4:45 AM I would be breaking the Manasquan Inlet and the hunt was on.

You might ask why so early? Well over the years I have accumulated some knowledge and observations that have helped me be successful and being one of the first boats on the pods is just one of them.

In this article I want to share with you some bunker and bass observations that may go unnoticed by others. Some are tactics and some are just observations but when you put the two together it equals more fish.

My first tactic and observation as I mentioned above is the timing. Timing is key as usually a very early bite is always on. This happens before the sun comes up when there is just enough light to locate where the bunker schools are. This means getting out there and being on top of it. This was the case all this week as being the first boat on a pod was producing big fish.

One of the things that I have noticed over the years in terms of bunker behavior is that many times before sun up the bunker will be off the beach over deeper water around the 30 - 40 foot mark and then get pushed in towards the beach as the sun comes up.

However when I first break the inlet I will run along the beach to see if any bunker are there with the above thought always in the back of my mind. If they are not in tight I start to head east. I usually employ a zigzag pattern, out and then in, as I do this searching for that first pod of the day. I know that this time is critical before sun-up and if I can find a pod of bunker right away a big bass or two is usually scored. And all this happens before more than a handful of other boats are out of the inlet.

Timing in the summer is also important when it comes to the duration of the bite. In the summer when there are warmer water temperatures, 67 degrees plus, the duration of the bite is often short-lived. This week the bite has been good for the first three hours, 5:00 AM - 8:00 AM, and then has basically turned off. This is typical as the sun climbs to a higher angle in the sky. Today for example I was in by 7:30 AM with multiple fish hooked up and other run-offs. At this time other boaters were just coming out of the inlet. An exception to this would be on an overcast day when we usually see the bite extended for a slightly longer time.

The next observation I look to is the wind. Bunker will swim into the wind. Right now the massive concentration of bunker that are in my area are moving back and forth depending on which way the wind is blowing. Today we had a wind up from the south and the bunker were going south right into it. Yesterday their movement was to the north and the wind was coming out of the northwest.

Now I don’t know why they exhibit this behavior but it is this behavior that I see over and over again. But here is my guess, and yes it is only a guess, but I like to think about these things. Bunker are filter feeders and will filter the water feeding on plankton. When the bunker swim into the wind, the wind helps to push the water into their mouth making their filtering process easier. Sound good? Maybe?

Another observation worth noting when hunter for bunker early in the pre-dawn hours is that many times the bunker will be down and not on the surface. Here is when you will need to use your fishfinder to read the schools. They will be clearly visible below the surface as large masses on your screen. When you do read them take note of the water depth that they are in. This is so because I often see the bunker moving along the beach in this same depth line. In other words if I read them over 25 feet of water down deep that is where I can expect them to move in a line north or south. Therefore I will run this line north and south looking to locate more schools.

I like to net my baits early and put them in my custom made livewell so when I pull up on a pod I don’t have to waste time trying to snag a bait. I can just pitch one out into the pod. When I do this what I look for is a pod with actively feeding fish. I don’t spend too much time on any one pod if I don’t see fish in it. I move to the next one and take a look. When bass are around like they are now some pods will have fish with them and others will not.

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

Active pods can be recognized by seeing fish thrashing through the bait, this is a no brainer. But if you don’t see this then fish can be recognized by the way the bunker are behaving. When bass are right underneath the bunker the pod will ball up tightly, become darker in appearance, and almost look like it is vibrating. This is because all the bunkers are extremely nervous.

When I see this I will want to cast my bait directly to this spot. The initial splash of my bunker hitting the water will instantly get the attention of the bass that is just below. So get ready for a quick take. What really works well in a situation like this is to pitch out a dead whole bunker. These dead baits to a hungry bass are hard to resist as they present an easy effortless meal to grab. Today for example four of my big bass came by utilizing this method. The other thing that I will do in this situation is if I drift to far off of the school I will reposition my boat by just nudging it into gear to get into a position to reach this sweet spot in the pod again. I don’t like to waste too much time on the outside or edges of the pod early in the morning.

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

Ok time to run back out, these are just a few observations that I hope will help you to increase your angling ability, so get out there and get ‘em.  End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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